How to disagree and still come to an amicable resolution (aka Negotiating for Parents 101)
Péter Török makes good points about each parent explaining the impact of certain decisions on the family. I am going to elaborate on Swati's note to pick your battles.
In our house, when things become contentious, there are usually three types of dispositions on an issue:
- the issue is very important (meaning pro) to someone,
- the issue is neutral (not important) to someone, or
- they are opposed to issue.
When the mix is neutral/neutral, then it's not an issue. Our kids don't take music lessons because neither one of us cares enough about it. No problem.
When the mix is important/important or opposed/opposed, we both care and are in complete agreement so there is more consistent follow-up. For example, we both think it's important that our kids can swim. So, the kids are always at their lessons and it doesn't get forgotten. Another example, the rule in our house is that "you hit; you sit". Crime and punishment are both clear by both parents.
When the mix is important/neutral, generally the person with interest takes the lead. For example, it's important to me that clothing be put away. So I take charge of that. Sometimes I enlist the help of my spouse, but generally he is not leading that task. This is when explaining how doing this task impacts me and the family has the best results. One of us gets talked into caring. Re-motivation is required because there are more slip-ups. The parent who cares generally needs to ask for help when they want it.
Arguments happen when the mix starts involving opposition. The violent TV/movie issue is a good example. This is where we start invoking veto power. Either parent has the right to forbid something that they think is wrong. This is a firm "drawing line in the sand" kind of approach and is used rarely. Restricting is easier to enforce than banning because as your children mature you can loosen the restrictions. The things that are banned in our house are banned for everyone (i.e. smoking). Another example is helmets: "thou shalt not ride a bike without a helmet"...until you are legally responsible for yourself; same rule applies for parents.
Note that these examples don't involve life-saving decisions, like blood transfusions or transplants or surgeries. This is where you and your spouse have hopefully discussed your values and come to terms with your differences before deciding to (marry and) have children.
For contentious issues, trying to go about the decision logically rather than emotionally helps.
- List the pros and cons.
- Make everyone's reasons known.
- Exhaust alternatives first.
Then when you still have a problem, the person opposed can feel better about agreeing to what previously unthinkable.
A good book on negotiating that fits most situations that don't involve money is "Getting to Yes". Law schools use it. The premise is that there are 4 elements to negotiation and how you should deal with them:
People: Separate the people from the problem.
Interests: Focus on interests, not positions.
Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard
Most of all, regardless of the situation, be sure to address the idea and not the person. If you can avoid personal attacks, finding a mutually agreeable solution is more likely.